Crime & Justice

One year after the McDade shooting: Pasadena officers cleared, but still no civilian oversight panel

The family of Kendrec McDade and attorney Caree Harper at a rally at Pasadena City Hall.
The family of Kendrec McDade and attorney Caree Harper at a rally at Pasadena City Hall.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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It's been one year since two Pasadena police officers shot and killed an unarmed teenager during a pursuit after they'd responded to a call about an armed robbery.

The fatal shooting of Kendrec McDade, 19, happened near the corner of North Orange Grove Boulevard and Sunset Avenue.

Officers Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin fired eight rounds, some at point blank range. McDade was hit seven times. He died later at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

McDade, Newlen and Griffin were brought together because of a 911 call by Oscar Carrillo. He had been buying tacos from a food truck when he said two men stole a backpack from his car. Carrillo called 911 and told the dispatcher that he’d been robbed.

“Two guys that just stole my backpack. They just put a gun in my face, right now,” Carrillo told the dispatcher. “They just run away.”

He later admitted that was a lie; the men did not have guns, but Carrillo's claim that they did was relayed to Newlen and Griffin when they were dispatched to the scene. The officers spotted McDade, who they say matched the description the caller had given to the 9-1-1 operator.

When he saw the officers, McDade ran. Newlen ran after him. The patrol car, with Griffin driving, cut off McDade in an alley. The officer say the teenager turned suddenly and ran toward the car. Griffin fired, and then Newlen did, too. After the shooting, investigators found that McDade was not armed.

A year later, many in Pasadena remember the shooting with simmering anger.

“They should’ve made sure if he had a gun or not before they did all of that,” said Pasadena resident Katrina Arellano.

The incident launched investigations into the shooting. The FBI and the L.A. County of Independent Review are conducting reviews.

The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office announced in December that it would not prosecute the officers—saying their actions were “lawful self-defense and in defense of each other.”

On Wednesday, the Pasadena Police Department’s internal investigators came to a similar conclusion. Its report stated the officers acted “within departmental policy.”

Some residents are skeptical of the findings, saying they've trust in the police department. That skepticism has stirred debate about whether there's a need for a public advisory or oversight board to monitor police policy.

“I think the idea of just a second set of eyes or even for him to just sit down with just certain segment of this community,” said Joe Brown, past president of the Pasadena NAACP.

Brown said there should be guidelines on who’s allowed to sit the public board. Members should have a good understanding of police training and tactics and a certain level of legal and civil expertise, he said.

The call for public oversight of the police department hasn't been dismissed by police chief Phillip Sanchez, but there's been no move on the part of city officials to establish one. Members of the Pasadena City Council who sit on the Public Safety Committee say that panel already acts as a check on the police department.

Chief Sanchez has made some departmental changes since the McDade shooting. Department brass now use new computer software that tracks officer conduct more closely. The department is also working to make sure anyone who files a citizen complaint online gets an electronic copy of that complaint.

The city attorney in Pasadena has charged Carrillo, the 911 caller, with making a false report of a criminal offense and a false report on an emergency. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Kendrec McDade's mother has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the city and the police department. Depositions are underway, but it could be next year before the suit goes to trial.